Bank of America Corp. said it would almost double its stake in China Construction Bank Corp., ending speculation that it would dump part of its three-year-old investment in China's No. 2 bank to blunt the effects of the global financial crisis.

The Charlotte company, which raised $10 billion last month to help fund its purchase of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., said Monday that it is raising its China Construction stake to 19.1%, or 44.7 billion shares.

Exercising an option, B of A is to buy the shares from the state investment arm, China Safe Investments Ltd., the Beijing banking company's biggest stakeholder.

"China Construction Bank is tightly tied to the government, and they are a preferred bank," said Richard Wottrich, managing director of Dresner Partners, a Chicago investment banking firm. "China will probably return the favor someday by doing something for Bank of America if they need help."

B of A has received $15 billion from the U.S. government as part of a $250 billion package to shore up lenders and thaw the credit markets.

The company first invested in China Construction in June 2005, buying a $3 billion stake before the lender was publicly listed. By Sept. 30 the value of that stake was $14.5 billion, a regulatory filing said.

B of A said it plans to be "a long-term and significant strategic investor" in China Construction.

The shares cannot be sold until Aug. 29, 2011, without the Chinese bank's consent.

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